A Ban on Natural Gas, a High-Security City Picnic, and More City Hall Departures

Gas, Fire, Hot, Cooking, Hotplate, Burner, Gas Stove
Verboten? O’Brien to propose ban on new gas hookups; image via Pixabay

1. Last Wednesday, at the direction of new Seattle Department of Human Resources Director Bobby Humes, several high-ranking staffers at the department were reportedly told to pack their bags and leave the building—a departure from the Durkan Administration’s more common practice of giving city staffers the opportunity to “resign” and stick around for a couple of weeks. I have calls out to the HR department for more information about the departures.

The three staffers reportedly included deputy director Laura Southard, who was closely associated with former director Susan Coskey and former interim director Sue McNab, and Deborah Jaquith, SDHR’s public information officer. (Southard’s and Jaquith’s outgoing voice mail messages feature the same voice saying they are no longer with the city.)

Crosscut has reported extensively on the department, which is responsible for investigating employee allegations of sexual harassment and other complaints. After Coskey resigned in 2017, Durkan appointed a succession of interim directors, including McNab, who withdrew her name from consideration for the permanent position after an internal investigation found she worked outside the city for two of her seven months in office, as Crosscut also reported.

Humes, the former HR director for the city’s parks department, was sworn in last month.

2. Amid turmoil at the city’s Human Services Department (the homelessness division is being dissolved as part of the merger into a new joint county-city public development authority overseeing homelessness, and many employees expect to lose their jobs in the process), HSD deputy director Audrey Buehring informed employees yesterday that the department had hired security guards to patrol the annual departmental picnic.

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“Because we value the safety of our employees, HSD has decided to hire security personnel to be at our event. There have been no reports of any specific safety issues; this is just to offer reassurance to you and your guests and to visibly deter any trespassers. Security personnel will be identifiable, so if you have any concerns or see anything that could pose a threat to our safety, be sure to report them immediately to security personnel,” Buehring wrote.

Asked for further details about the decision to hire security, HSD spokeswoman Meg Olberding responded, “There have been no reports of any specific safety issues; this is just to offer reassurance to our staff and their guests and to visibly deter any trespassers.” OK then!

The theme of this year’s HSD “Summer Jam,” by the way, was “’90s.”

3. City council member Mike O’Brien plans to introduce legislation that will, among other things, ban natural gas hookups in new buildings, another step (along with Durkan’s proposed tax on heating oil, which is designed to get homeowners to convert to cleaner energy sources by 2028) toward the city’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2050. Few details were available about the proposal, which O’Brien will introduce on Tuesday; a spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, which provides natural gas to more than 800,000 customers (many of them in Seattle) said the company had not seen O’Brien’s legislation yet. “Natural gas is critical to providing our customers with the safe, clean, affordable, and reliable energy they expect,” the spokesman, Andrew Padula, said.

4. An internal HSD email indicates that Mayor Durkan’s 2020 budget will include a 2.6 percent pay increase for front-line human service workers who work for city contractors, an increase from last year’s hotly contested 2 percent “inflationary” hike.

Last year, Durkan initially proposed a 2 percent increase just for workers funded through the city’s general fund. When council members, including Teresa Mosqueda, proposed paying for the raises with funding the mayor had added to expand the Navigation Team, Durkan initially characterized the move as a “cut” to critical services. (The Nav Team expansion had been funded with one-time dollars, but—as is often the case with such “temporary” programs—the expansion became permanent.)

Ultimately, the council found the money and the Navigation Team expansion stuck. HSD hasn’t yet confirmed the 2.6 percent increase (I sent requests for more information to the agency and the mayor’s office on Wednesday, and will update this post if I hear back), but it will be welcome news to human service workers, who often make just above minimum wage.

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